The Phone Co-op is the UK’s only co-operative telecoms provider. 100% member-owned, they have a democratic internal structure and no external shareholders. You can just become a customer, or you can become a member too, and have a say in the way the co-op is run.
We have our broadband and landline with the Phone Co-op already; we’ve switched our mortgage and banking to the Nationwide Building Society (they provide a current account too); we’re going to switch to Co-op Energy for our gas and electricity (plus we’ve got solar pv installed); I’ve got Linux on my laptop and am corporate-free with software; we get our food from the Co-op, Waitrose (employee-owned), a local farmers’ market, and we’ve joined a fish-box scheme; we’ve invested in Sharenergy and the Ecological Land Co-op; I work for a not-for-profit and my partner works for the NHS. So we’re almost completely corporate-free for almost all the essentials of life.
But – I’d forgotten / neglected to switch my mobile account. I’ve been with T-mobile / ee / whoever they are now for years, and it was just down to inertia that I hadn’t co-operativised. Earlier this year I decided to do it. I’ve written it all down so that you can do the same. It’s easy.
What to do
First, check the situation with your current provider. Check your contract. If you’re out of contract, you’re ready to switch. If you’re still in contract, check how long you have left, and what the penalty is for breaking the contract. It may be best to wait until you’re out of contract. If you’re not sure, call them and ask.
Check what package you’ve got – how many free minutes are included, plus texts and data etc. Look at your previous bills – see what you’ve been paying each month on average.
Contact your current provider
- Tell them that you want to leave. They’ll almost definitely ask you if you’ve found a better deal, and if so, they’ll match it (they won’t explain why they charged you above the odds in the first place, or why they’re happy to drop your price because you’re thinking of leaving, but not anyone else’s). Tell them you’re switching to a co-op, because you like co-ops (be prepared for incomprehension).
- Ask them for your PAC code – you’ll need this to be able to keep your number. Make a note of it, plus they’ll probably email it to you.
- They’ll also email you a link to a site that allows you to unlock your phone. If you got your phone as part of your contract, it will be locked in to your provider – a SIM card from another provider won’t work in it. If, however, you didn’t get your phone from your supplier, it may not need to be unlocked. You can test this by putting someone else’s SIM card in – as long as they’re with a different provider. If it works, your phone isn’t locked. If it’s locked, then unlock it via the link. It will probably take up to 10 days and it might cost you (£10-ish), although there’ll probably be no charge if you’re out of contract.
Contact the Phone Co-op
Call them to discuss what package you’d like. On their site, they say that packages start at around £17 (ex-VAT) per month. Actually, I don’t have a smartphone, and only want calls and texts, so for me, their packages start at around £8 per month. Their prices are very competitive. You can call them on 01608 434000, and ask to be put through to residential sales, who will create an account for you while you’re on the phone. Lines are open 8-8 during the week, 9-3 on Saturday, and it’s quick to get through.
- Talk about which package you’d like – you’ll have a 30-day rolling contract, so you won’t be tied into anything.
- Give them your details, including your PAC code (see above).
- They’ll talk you through everything you need to do, set up your account and send you a SIM card.
- (By the way, you can’t order an extra SIM card in case you lose your phone. If you do lose your phone, call them immediately – they’ll cancel that SIM and send you a new one – next day delivery if you like).
- They’ll email you to let you know the day that your number will be switched from your old provider to the Phone Co-op (although they can’t tell you the exact time). It usually takes 4-5 working days. On that day, put your new SIM card in and you’re switched. If you put your new SIM in before the number has switched over, you’ll be on a temporary number, so if you want all your contacts to be able to get you, best to wait until later in the day.
And there you go – you’ll no longer be giving money to the corporate sector for your phone contract.
NB: when it comes to hardware, it’s not possible to get a smartphone that’s made by a co-op yet. The Fairphone comes closest (and is provided by the Phone Co-op), but it’s still a private company that could either be bought out by a conventional, for-profit corporation, or become one itself. However, a co-operative in Indonesia is providing a ‘locally-produced, low-end smartphone for Indonesians left out of the digital boom’. It’s only a matter of time before you’ll be able to get a co-operative smartphone over here. Watch this space.